Lyon, France, 1st February 2022. An Ulhsport Official Ligue 1 Uber Eats matchball prior to kick off in the Uber Eats Ligue 1 match at the Groupama Stadium, Lyon. Picture credit should read: Jonathan Moscrop / Sportimage PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUK SPI-1496-0104

After five games in the Ligue 1, the 4th positioned Marseille faced the 12th placed Montpellier. The game was predicted as a difficult one for the home side due to Montpellier’s defending expertise.

André Vilas Boas had a rough start but, after the first two games, his “luck” seemed to have shifted. Indeed, Marseille won their last three games including a difficult away victory against Nice.

On the other side, Michel Der Zakarian’s team had ups and downs at the beginning of the league. However, one thing is very clear on Montpellier’s team, they do not concede many goals. In fact, in their first five games, only four goals were scored against them.

In this tactical analysis, we will be taking a closer look at both teams performance. Furthermore, an analysis will be elaborated on what kind of tactics both coaches set up for the game.


Ligue 1 2019/20: Marseille vs Montpellier - Tactical Analysis tactics

First and foremost, let’s take a look at the home team tactics. Villas Boas is known for his offensive-minded 4-3-3 schemes, and with Marseille is no exception. In fact, this season, Marseille played 82,5% of the times with this scheme. Nevertheless, the Portuguese coach made some changes in the starting eleven for this game.

In the defence, Hiroki Sakai was still injured and gave his place to Bouna Sarr as a right-back. Additionally, Álvaro González started but he was substituted due to an injury by Caleta-Car, in the first minutes of the game.

After Luiz Gustavo’s departure, Marseille midfield has been always composed by Strootman, López and Sanson and it stayed the same.

The front three were composed by Payet, Benedetto and Valère Germain who took advantage of Sarr’s position changing.

On the other side, Zakarian’s team did not make changes in their scheme and presented their usual 3-4-1-2 (or 3-5-2).

The defensive line stayed the same as the last two games except for Nicolas Cozza who substituted Daniel Congré. The midfield and the attack stayed the same as the past three games.

Marseille’s dominance of the ball

As expected for this game we had two teams playing with two different approaches. One more offensive and the other more cautious at the back trying to surprise their opponent with a quick goal. In fact, after Montpellier’s goal, Zakarian’s team did not attack hardly ever.

Villas Boas team appreciates having the ball. In fact, in this game, they had it more than in any other during this season. Marseille had 62% of ball possession. This was only possible due to Montpellier’s lack of interest in the ball. Still, Marseille’s pressing had a word to say in the game’s possession. While Zakarian’s side allowed the opposition to make on average 13.4 passes per possession, Marseille only allowed 7.0.

Obviously, having possession of the ball is excellent, but utilise it to hurt the opponent is the key to a good exhibition. Marseille certainly tried to do that. Their possessions reaching the opponents half and box were 75% and 18% respectively. Comparing these numbers with Montpellier’s we can see the huge difference in their strategy. Zakarian’s side only reached opposition midfield and box in possession 32 and three times respectively. The first number represents 30% of their possessions and the second only 3%.

Generally, Marseille’s possessions would reach the attack mainly because of their midfielders. Indeed, their positioning was quite effective. In the image below, we see Marseille’s players average position in the field. The three midfielders had different roles and positions in the field.

Ligue 1 2019/20: Marseille vs Montpellier - Tactical Analysis tactics
Marseille’s passing combinations and players average positioning.

Strootman had a more defensive role and was responsible for building the game from the back. The image below shows exactly that.

Additionally, he has combinations with almost every player and his almost in line with the centre-backs as seen in the graphic above.

Ligue 1 2019/20: Marseille vs Montpellier - Tactical Analysis tactics
Marseille’s three midfielders with different positioning. Strootman deeper to start his team build-up. López in the middle to aid attack and the build-up. Sanson with a role similar to an attacking midfielder.

Lopéz helped Strootman in the game construction and had an important role in Marseille’s attacks. The image above helps to understand that. His progressive runs with the ball and accurate through passes led to many opportunities. He was essential throughout the game as the ball passed through him almost in every play. The graphic above demonstrates this analysis. Lopéz made 93 pass combinations throughout the game.

Sanson played more like an offensive midfielder. He would stay closer to Benedetto making runs to the back of the Montpellier’s defence. Also, when needed, he would come down the pitch to participate in the build-up. As can be seen in the image below.

Ligue 1 2019/20: Marseille vs Montpellier - Tactical Analysis tactics
Sanson making runs to the back of Montpellier’s defensive line.

Montpellier’s fortress at the back 

Ligue 1 2019/20: Marseille vs Montpellier - Tactical Analysis tactics
Montpellier’s passing combinations and players average positioning.

Taking a look at the same graphic from Montpellier’s passing and positioning we can understand their stand in the game. They defended low and their game was played almost only on their half of the pitch. Furthermore, Montpellier’s links between players are almost insignificant which also shows us their disinterest in having the ball.

Although Montpellier presented a 3-4-1-2 scheme, defensively wise they played with their wingers in line with their centre backs. Therefore, the 3-4-1-2 was more a 5-3-2 throughout the game. The image below shows an example of this positioning. Following their goal, Zakarian’s side defended with 7/8 men most of the times.

Ligue 1 2019/20: Marseille vs Montpellier - Tactical Analysis tactics
Montpellier’s five men defensive line plus two midfielders helping the defence.

Marseille tried to score through many kinds of attacks, but Montpellier’s defence was very solid. One of the most used plays by Marseille was crosses from their full-backs and wingers. Even though Marseille’s goal came from this kind of play, they were pretty impressive defending crosses.

Montpellier overcame these kinds of attacks by placing many players inside their box. The image below is an example of this situation.

Ligue 1 2019/20: Marseille vs Montpellier - Tactical Analysis tactics
In this image, we can see two Montpellier players marking one of Marseille player.

Other numerous attempts came from Marseille’s corners. Vilas Boas team had 15 corners in the game and only three ended with shots. That’s 80% of defensive success from Montpellier.

Additionally, Montpellier’s team was quite aggressive on the ball making 17 fouls in the whole game. Their defending efficiency in free-kicks crosses was similar to the corners. In fact, in three Marseille free-kicks, none had a shot on goal.

Montpellier were a very solid team throughout the game intercepting 67 Marseilles’ attacks. In addition to this, they also made 54 clearances which also proves their incapacity and undesire in having the ball.

Despite their attacking inactivity, after scoring the goal, Montpellier were seriously efficient. Actually, this was enough to get one point. Zakarian’s team made only two shots and scored one goal.

Water dripping day by day wears the hardest rock away

Playing at home, Marseille, had the responsibility to win the game. However, after Montpellier’s goal, the task got harder. With a difficult mission in hand, Vilas Boas side attempted all kinds of attacking plays. Consequently, after 74 long minutes and many attacks, they got a goal, but it was not enough to win.

Foreseeing Montpellier’s defensive strategy, the Marseille full-backs were almost wingers since the beginning of the game. Due to this positioning, the real wingers, Payet and Germain played more in the middle close to Benedetto. Additionally, they were capable of roaming freely the space between the opponents defensive and midfield lines. The image below represents this situation. Also, this assured that Germain, usually a striker, played more inside the opponent’s box.

Ligue 1 2019/20: Marseille vs Montpellier - Tactical Analysis tactics
In this image, we can see Marseille’s two full-backs high in the pitch. While that Payet his roaming around freely and Germain is closer to Benedetto.

Another consequence of Marseille’s full-backs positioning was exploring Bouna Sarr’s speed and attacking ability. In fact, the two full-backs made numerous crosses throughout the game. Undoubtedly, Marseille played a lot through the wings and it ended in 32 crosses. Nonetheless, only 11 of the crosses ended with shots due to Montpellier’s solid defence.

This kind of attacks also resulted in several corners for Marseille. However, they were very inefficient in these set pieces. Only 20% of their corner kicks ended with a shot.

All kinds of plays were tried to conquer Montpellier’s fortress but only one goal resulted from the 75 attacks from Marseille. However, not only the wings were explored by Marseille, as can be seen in the image below.

Ligue 1 2019/20: Marseille vs Montpellier - Tactical Analysis tactics
Kamara advances in the field and receives the ball just outside Montpellier’s area. Benedetto starts a run, the ball gets to him but he fails to score with his left foot.

Marseille tried numerous plays through the middle and resulted in 21 shots. Eight of those shots were due to good passes to the box but just three were on goal (including Germain’s goal). Outside of the box, the story was similar, 13 attempted shots and only two were on target.

The attacks were various, and Marseille’s individualities also helped to create danger with three noteworthy players. Bouna Sarr, Payet and Amavi had dribbling statistics above their average. Their dribbling attempts were more than double of their usual and their success rate was better. Emphasis on Payet who completed 76% of his 11 dribbles.


To sum up this, a game that was very one-sided ended with a draw with just two goals. With this tactical analysis in mind, we have to consider that Montpellier’s defence was solid, nevertheless, Marseille is guilty of not getting the three points. After numerous attacks, they were not capable of scoring one more goal to win the game. In fact, that frustration may have helped to the shameful end of the game with three red cards.

After the game, Andre Vilas Boas team descended to the 5th place and Montpellier remains in the 12th place. This outcome was clearly a bad result for Marseille who played well but were at the end, not effective. As for Montpellier, they got what they came for: a point in a difficult away game.

Artwork by @chapulana

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